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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to. [The Sitting was suspended at 1.54 p.m.]

Environmental Regulatory Inspection Charges

3 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, there are a number of environmental regulatory charging schemes, covering a range of industrial and agricultural sectors. The general principle adopted is that regulators should set charges to cover the full costs of regulation and that those whose activities impinge on the environment, rather than taxpayers, should meet the cost. The Environment Agency's charges are considered and approved by Ministers each year.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, would the Minister like to hear of a specific example that affects

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agriculture badly? A friend of mine put in four septic tanks to handle the facilities for the students who come to pick his fruit. The cost for the tanks and for putting them in was 3,296 and 400 for labour, making a total of 3,696. SEPA—the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency—which I would relate closely to the English Environment Agency, as they sprang from the same sire—charged 2,320 for an inspection that took about an hour. The British Geological Survey took, with VAT, 646. The VAT on the tanks was 566. For an expenditure of 3,696, the Government collected 3,532. That cannot be good for agriculture.

The charges levied by SEPA and the British Geological Survey should be scaled according to the size of the job. I dare say that, on a job costing 400,000, such a sum would be reasonable, but it is unreasonable for that job.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the noble Lord is right in so far as SEPA originated from the bodies that came together to form the environmental protection agencies. However, as the noble Lord is aware, because he helped the process along, devolution means that he must address his views on what happens in Scotland to the Scottish Parliament. It is a matter for that body.

I reiterate that, for England and Wales, the policy is that the costs must be recovered. From my background in local government, I know that people often fail to recognise that additional costs are incurred in providing services. What happens in Scotland is a matter for the Scottish Parliament, in whose existence the noble Lord rejoices.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, how many schemes are in being? When were they last reviewed? Are they reviewed regularly?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, unusually, I am puzzled by the noble Baroness's question. The range of functional responsibilities of the Environment Agency for England and Wales covers flood defence, water resource management, water quality, integrated pollution control, radioactive waste management and waste management. Therefore, it is impossible to provide a comprehensive list of the individual areas in which there is activity that falls under the remit of the agency.

The question posed by the noble Baroness was not clear.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, in her response to the noble Lord's Question, the Minister said that there were various charging schemes. My questions were: how many schemes are there, when were they last reviewed, and are they reviewed regularly?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I go back to the point that the charging systems for England and Wales are fixed in consultation with the Environment Agency. I cannot give the noble Baroness a list giving the exact number of such

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schemes, although I am happy to write to her. The schemes cover regulation of all the industrial complexes, farming and other areas of pollution.

The recommendations made by the Environment Agency on the level of fees to be charged are, as far as I am aware, adjusted annually. Should I prove to be wrong, I shall write to the noble Baroness.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, has a calculation been made setting the charges that properly fall on farmers and on the agriculture industry against the subsidy that they receive from public funds?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am not aware of any work to create that precise cross-referencing. The scheme is not intended to produce more than the cost of administering the service and should ensure that no additional cost falls on the taxpayer, under the polluter pays principle.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, Section 46 of the Environment Act 1995 requires that the accounts of the Environment Agency be audited each year by auditors appointed or approved by the Secretary of State. Does that audit include a duty to consider whether the charges levied by the Environment Agency are reasonable?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I would be extremely surprised were that not to be the case. It is part of the terms of reference of the Environment Agency. In addition to the consideration given by the auditors, there is the ministerial responsibility, which, in England and Wales, is held by the appropriate Minister of the Welsh Assembly working in co-operation with my right honourable friend Michael Meacher.

Special Constables

3.7 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will bring forward proposals to pay special constables.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am aware that there has been a debate for a number of years on whether special constables should be paid. Specials themselves are not agreed on this. Some Specials have argued in favour, while others have felt that payment would devalue their volunteer status.

We intend to introduce amendments to the Special Constabulary regulations to allow police authorities to submit schemes that they have agreed with their chief constable for the payment of special constables. Such schemes will require the approval of the Secretary of State. Running a number of trial schemes will help establish to what extent payments to Specials have a

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positive effect on their recruitment and retention and on the number of hours that they are able to offer their force.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and declare my interest as Vice-Chairman of the Thames Valley Police Authority.

The Special Constabulary was around 20,000 when the Government came to power and is now 11,500. By the time that the Minister moves to bring in a scheme, the constabulary will have disappeared altogether. He gave almost the same Answer as I have had before.

Will the scheme that the Minister has in mind happen quickly? Will it specifically target the police authorities near London, for whom retention is a serious problem? Despite large efforts to recruit more officers, we are unable to increase numbers, and we are losing experienced officers to London and further away, where houses are cheaper.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, first, I should perhaps congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, on his persistence on this issue. It is a very important issue and he has raised it a number of times. I have probably responded in the past to some of his questions.

Yes, we recognise that that is a problem. Yes, we want to see the new approach adopted as soon as possible. I believe that we telegraphed it in last year's White Paper Policing A New Century: A Blueprint For Reform. We want carefully to evaluate the impact of running such pilots. Perhaps the noble Lord is aware of the proposals from the Cumbria police authority which is intending, obviously with co-operation from the centre, to introduce a pilot scheme to evaluate the impact that relaxing the regulations might have on attracting and, more importantly, retaining special constables working in that difficult area.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the fall in special constables in England and Wales, quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, reflects a serious crisis in morale among special constables? Does he also agree that there is a danger that the introduction of community support officers may further undermine that morale?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not accept that there is a lack of morale. There is continued confidence among Specials in the support and encouragement that they receive. There is no doubt that we are successful in recruitment; it is retention that is the problem. That is precisely why means of retention through relaxation of the current regulations are being seriously considered and will be evaluated through pilots.

I do not agree with the second point made by the noble Viscount relating to community support officers. They are increasingly popular among those forces across the country which are now submitting

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schemes. They have been successfully introduced in London and are doing a tremendous job on behalf of the communities that they serve.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that there was quite an exodus of special constables two or three years ago when basic training requirements were introduced, which meant that long-serving special constables who had been happy to do the job, were expected to go through precisely the same training as somebody who had just walked through the door and said that he or she wanted to be a special constable? Is that still the case?

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